Talk by Mother Anne-Marie
In this talk I am going to introduce immediately the two disciples (and they are disciples with a question mark) to whom I want to draw our attention. They are both mentioned in the reading we have just heard – Simon of Cyrene and the Centurion.
Simon of Cyrene is an intriguing and somewhat mysterious figure. He appears from nowhere – seemingly commandeered into service – and then he disappears again from the story.
But he is depicted everywhere there are stations of the cross, and so his image has been painted, drawn and sculpted down the ages and in thousands of places. I am not putting a question mark next to Simon of Cyrene’s name when it comes to disciples. I am going to call him a disciple. I think it is unlikely that he was one at the point he was summoned to carry the cross, but many scholars think he became one. Because…………. in Mark’s gospel, we have one of those wonderful little personal additions which tell us people knew him. Mark says of Simon of Cyrene –he’s Alexander and Rufus’s father. So it seems that in the community of Christians for whom Mark wrote his gospel the sons of Simon of Cyrene were well known. And some Christian traditions say that they were indeed missionaries, and also that the Rufus to whom Paul sends greetings in Chapter 16 of Romans may have been this very Rufus. And I am easily convinced that if they were Christians, followers of the Way, the chances are their Dad was too, and that it is through what he told them that they came to be believers.
Simon was from Cyrene – present day Libya – though Paula Gooder thinks it most likely he lived in Jerusalem or nearby as part of a Cyrenian Jewish community, for which there is archeological evidence. Libya had thriving Greek and Jewish communities, as was common along the Mediterranean shores at the time. Whatever happened in the encounter between Jesus and Simon on the journey to the cross it left a lasting impression on Simon. He did not hear Jesus preach. He did not witness him perform a miracle. Quite the opposite. He saw Jesus at his lowest point, weak and bleeding, staggering through the streets, being jeered at by the crowds. And yet something about this Jesus drew Simon to him.
Paula Gooder says we often think we have to be at our best to communicate the faith. Either we have to have the best talks, or the best spiel to give about our personal faith; or at least we have to seem to have our lives sorted out so others can see the perfect life that Jesus has given us. Simon of Cyrene and his family came to believe in Jesus through an encounter when Jesus was at this worst so to speak. Though we know that it was when he was at this worst, at his point of death, that he saved us and redeemed the world. Any time is the right time to witness to our faith and we should not hide away when at our lowest ebb. Paul’s words from 2 Corinthians should always echo in our heads “it is when I am weak that I am strong.”
So to our second disciple, but here there is definitely a question mark. The Centurion, who in the translation we heard says as Jesus dies “truly this man was God’s Son”. In the original Greek we have no idea whether the text says a Son of God or the Son of God. You will have heard both translations no doubt in your time, but as the Greek has no ‘the’ or ‘a’ to help, we cannot really say, so the NRSV translation goes for God’s Son, but as Paula Gooder points out as they spell Son with a capital S the translators obviously do have a view. For Mark and Matthew, who both have the Centurion making this statement, it obviously was of significance, otherwise why put it in. A son of God says nothing very much. The Son of God says something very significant indeed. We have no idea what that Centurion went on to believe or do in his life, but there has been many a church goer down the ages who could not have said “Truly this man is the Son of God” with as much certainty as this unknown Roman Centurion.
Matthew is in no doubt that this man on the cross is the Son of God, and that his death is not just about us as individuals – our individual salvation, but that it had cosmic significance. The sky turns dark, the curtain of the Temple is torn in two, and the graves of the dead are opened. The holiest of holiest in the Temple is no longer veiled and the path to paradise lies open. A new age has come. We still await it in all its fullness, but it has begun. God’s kingdom has broken into our world and Heaven is no longer veiled from us. Jesus who felt abandoned by his Father on the cross, opens to us through his death, the Kingdom and the certainty of life eternal, so that we can fully abandon our lives to the mercy and goodness of God.